California Water Authorities Using Smart Meter Data as Evidence to Impose Fines

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The smart grid isn’t com­ing. It’s already here.smartgrid

Every­where people’s hous­es are being fit­ted if they already haven’t with smart elec­tric meters and smart water meters. These meters com­mu­ni­cate real-time usage data via radio fre­quen­cy (which comes with its own set of health prob­lems).

Essen­tial­ly, con­sump­tion of util­i­ties in your home is being big broth­er tracked and traced at all times on the smart grid.

Sure, it was sold to every­one as a “smart” solu­tion for keep­ing con­sump­tion in check, that it would decrease util­i­ty bills because peo­ple could use it to check out how much they use and find smart ways to cut down. (How many peo­ple are real­ly even doing that, by the way?)

Not only is this going to be used to serve up “peak pric­ing” mod­els against the pop­u­la­tion — to price elec­tric­i­ty and water high­er dur­ing times of high­er con­sump­tion by the pop­u­la­tion — it’s also going to be used to allow the peo­ple to tat­tle on them­selves via their data, a set up that will come with heavy finan­cial consequences.

As we can see hap­pen­ing now in Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing its his­toric drought, smart meters are also being used by author­i­ties to seek peo­ple out and impose fines.

CBS Los Ange­les is report­ing that water author­i­ties are using smart meters against “water wasters”:

Water author­i­ties are using a new tool in a major effort to crack down on peo­ple and busi­ness­es wast­ing water in light of new water restric­tions issued by Gov. Jer­ry Brown to fight the drought.

The Long Beach Water Depart­ment says sprin­klers at a McDonald’s restau­rant on Bell­flower Boule­vard went on for 45 min­utes at a time, twice a night, for an unde­fined num­ber of nights. Com­plaints con­tin­ued to mount as water pooled and wast­ed. The depart­ment, how­ev­er, could do lit­tle about the wasting.

That was before the smart meter.

Since its instal­la­tion in Feb­ru­ary, Long Beach Water Depart­ment Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Kevin Wat­ti­er says he saw an imme­di­ate spike by tens of thou­sands of gal­lons, each time McDonald’s over­wa­tered their property.

It col­lects the data every five min­utes, then after mid­night, the cell­phone that’s built in here comes on, makes one call, and calls it in to the data­base that we and the cus­tomer, through a pass­word secu­ri­ty sys­tem, have online access to their con­sump­tion,” Wat­ti­er said. [empha­sis added] 

The punch­line?

Using this data, Wat­ti­er knew the pre­cise moment to send his employ­ees to video­tape the infrac­tions to use as evidence.

We are using it specif­i­cal­ly for an enforce­ment tool to go after those cus­tomers who we’ve got­ten lots of com­plaints about,” Wat­ti­er said.

In this case, it’s McDonald’s, and while McDonald’s may suck for a bevy of rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with its water usage, it isn’t like this tech­nol­o­gy is only going to be used against crap­py cor­po­ra­tions. It’s going to be used against every­one, right down to the lit­tle old lady that for­got her sprin­kler was on last Tuesday.

And those fines, depend­ing on the area, can be $500 a day.

Or what if you hate that lit­tle old lady and, as a neigh­bor who is out to get some­one, you decide to leave her sprin­kler on for her? What a payback.

Could that hap­pen? You see, the pro­pa­gan­da sur­round­ing the drought has already turned a lot of Cal­i­for­ni­ans against each other.

A social media cam­paign #drought­sham­ing start­ed by author­i­ties in some cities seeks to get peo­ple to pho­to­graph and film “water wasters” and shame them on social media. The “evi­dence” gath­ered can then be used by author­i­ties to impose fines on peo­ple as well. One of the guys in the arti­cle I wrote about was film­ing people’s homes at night and putting the videos up on YouTube. One of the videos he put up had the wrong address.

Mean­while, 80% of water in Cal­i­for­nia goes to mega agri­cul­ture oper­a­tions, includ­ing Con­cen­trat­ed Ani­mal Feed­ing Oper­a­tions (CAFOs). Cities are still sell­ing mil­lions of gal­lons of water for pen­nies on the dol­lar to mega­cor­po­ra­tions like Nestlé to bot­tle and sell. So the 20% of peo­ple left who are tat­tling on their neigh­bors for leav­ing a sprin­kler on for an extra half hour that’s not real­ly going to change any­thing just by the way.

Ques­tion: while the sys­tem is busy turn­ing neigh­bors into angry snitch­es and using smart meters to impose heavy fines on every­one, is any of this mak­ing more water?

Is all that mon­ey mak­ing more rain hap­pen? Or is it just mak­ing more mon­ey for cash-strapped munic­i­pal­i­ties? Are they going to take all those fines and do some­thing about the sit­u­a­tion or just make bank?

In the mean­time, the smart grid is doing exact­ly what it was always designed to: keep­ing every­one tracked, traced, finan­cial­ly trapped and strapped, and under the thumb of the establishment’s ever-watch­ing eye.